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New Model Army
Anthology Mick Middles , December 16th, 2010 06:06

A lazy image prevails: in a parallel world, it is always the early 1980s in the Yorks/Notts fracture zone. Feelings run high, boots stomp and fires burn. A Government squeezing the life out of village after village and divides are showing out on the picket lines. At the Retford Porterhouse, New Model Army perform, powering through a set thick with the force of unbridled attitude. The NMA logo sprays across black T-shirts and leather jackets. Iconic and demanding; wholly of the moment.

It is a vision so powerful that it lingers still, after three decades that has seen NMA existing in populated shadows, un-championed and yet unbridled, punching through a fluctuating band membership and dark intuitive heart that has never stopped beating. Even back in those heady days, and despite odd – very odd – appearances on Top of the Pops, they remained in those shadows despite the continued ferocity of their growing following. Largely ignored by the music press, they were allowed to thunder away, fusing a restless aesthetic with that powerful thrust. Only the recently celebrated Crass could claim a greater degree of outsider influence.

However, there is a difference. One cannot imagine gaining such pleasure from a Crass anthology. I am late with this review because I have been playing it over and over again and only a lack of time and a dwindling wallet has prevented me from surging into London to catch their twin shows at The Forum. In fact, I long to catch them soon.

All worthwhile anthologies prove one thing: that the artist has enjoyed a far more disparate muse than might generally be appreciated. Never has that point be so forcedly made, for this non-linear collection displays a restless sense of invention that simply belies the band's name. The 30 songs proudly displayed here stretch far and wide…defy belief in some cases and prove endlessly rewarding. Indeed, to the amazement of non-believers, they often seem more reminiscent of Deus than they are of The Damned. Lo-fi tricks and innate cleverness simply seeps from every sweaty pore.

I write as a bewitched outsider to NMA's charms. Much to my own shame, I freely admit even though I have interviewed the band's Bradford-based muse, the poet Joolz, on more than one occasion. I never realised that a similar energy buzzed and fizzed at the heart of this band's invention.

Things begin, as they should, with 1980's 'Vengeance'. If NMA are locked in an image then this is certainly it, a perfect slice of simplistic punk, a clock ticking into the song's explosive heart. It is suitably daft and full of chant and angst. Doc Martin punk, poignant to 2011 and the kind of single that seems so curiously difficult to write these days. NMA – through, again, a non linear mish-mash- divert swiftly into post punk experimentalism. Perhaps not surprisingly so, as founder member Justin Sullivan always pledged allegiance to northern soul and folk as well as the more expected areas of sub-goth and politico rock. All these aspects converge here and – take away the track-listing and tell-tale recording date – it seems fantastically difficult place each separated moment. This, in itself, is some achievement. For languishing here are echoes of Discharge and GBH (perhaps not so surprisingly) as well as a haunting pre-Metallica growl and quite noticeable slices from the songbooks of the Manic Street Preachers, The Cure, Venom, Bauhaus…well, those lines of influence stretch far and deep. At times, during 1993's 'Here Comes the War', it reflects Discharge angst and arguably a touch too simplistic. That stated, on 'Purity' (1990), 'Someone Like Jesus' (2000) and 'Carlisle Road. (2005), an astonishing delicacy exists, both in lyrical and musical terms. I like the ebb and flow… like dark storm clouds gathering over a picturesque English village, the undertone remains threatening despite, and maybe because of the delicacy of a lyric that sees the narrator touching the cheeks of his sleeping children. Not an image that one might easily discover in Crass or Discharge.

So there are 30 songs here on two CD's…all pulled from a possible 200 with new material waiting in the wings. While I am not convinced by the eccentricities of the marketing – a New Model Army jigsaw puzzle…anyone? – The time seems absolutely perfect to rediscover. Indeed, whereas Crass own the history and attention grabbing vibes – check Savage in Mojo – New Model Army have a song-weaponry that dwarfs such black-clad angst. Here lies the proof: vast, exhilarating and perfect for the times.

Click here to buy New Model Army - Anthology